July 15, 2009

THE WAR AGAINST SCIENCE? California Supreme Court Admits, Ignores Breathalyzer Flaws. “The California Supreme Court last Thursday entered a ruling allowing motorists accused of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) to question the reliability of the breathalyzer machinery used to secure convictions. The decision, however, leaves room for the conviction of drivers even when the machine is proved unreliable.” The technology may not work, but that’s outweighed by the fact that it’s very convenient, and produces a number as a result. . . .

UPDATE: Reader Anthony Argyriou writes:

The article to which you link does not accurately reflect the actual holding in the case.

California DUI law has gotten complicated: there is a crime of DUI, where you are guilty if your judgement and driving skill are impaired by alcohol, and there is the crime of “per se DUI”, where you are guilty if your blood alcohol or breath alcohol levels exceed certain limits. In ordinary DUI, having a blood/breath alcohol level too high creates a rebuttable presumption of guilt. In per se DUI, the blood or breath test result is probative of guilt.

In the particular case, defendant brought up the potential flaws in breath tests. The officer testified to the defendant’s impairment in a variety of other ways, as well as his test results. The jury hung on the “per se DUI”, but convicted on the regular DUI. Defendant claims that the jury instruction regarding the rebuttable presumption was improper, and that a proper instruction may have lead to a hung jury or acquittal. Given all the other evidence presented, that was treated as laughable by the Court.

The court did make a technical change to the process of rebutting the breathalyzer evidence, which is actually in line with improved scientific
knowledge of the flaws of the breathalyzer.


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